St. Cornelius was ordained as the Bishop of Rome in 251. The Bishop of Rome is what we now call the Pope, so you can see the significance of his position. His major contribution was to defend the faith against the Novatian schismatics, a group who denied the readmission of those who had lapsed in the faith by being made to perform a ritual sacrifice to pagan gods, under the threat of death by the Roman Emperor. St. Cyprian was a brother bishop who helped him in this struggle. Both men were subsequently martyred for the faith. Cornelius died in exile in 253, and Cyprian was beheaded in 258.
The focus of both men was to preserve church unity during a time when there was much oppression against the church. They could well echo St. Paul’s call for unity in today’s first reading: “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one Body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” They reached out to those who repented of their lapse in faith and earnestly desired once again to be one with the church.
Cyprian wrote to Cornelius, “Dearest brother, bright and shining is the faith which the blessed Apostle (that is, St. Paul) praised in your community. He foresaw in the spirit the praise your courage deserves and the strength that could not be broken; he was heralding the future when he testified to your achievements; his praise of the fathers was a challenge to the sons. Your unity, your strength have become shining examples of these virtues to the rest of the brethren.”
In this year when our parish is focusing on welcoming then, we must also strive to focus on unity. We are all one body in Christ.